May 3, 2014
Ottoman Velvets as Luxury Goods: Foreign Competition, Markets, and Mass Production

Speaker: Amanda Phillips, Marie Curie Fellow of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham

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This paper traces changes in one of the many styles and fashions found in Ottoman luxury velvets in the early modern period, focusing especially on well-known eastern Mediterranean motifs and formats dating to the sixteenth century and on lesser-known, Indian-inspired equivalents dating to the early eighteenth century. This distinctive type of silk and gold velvet upholstery, made in the Ottoman city of Bursa, changes over the decades; the shifts are driven by diverse factors, including a court-imposed fashion, which was widely imitated; an expansion of markets in the wider Muslim Mediterranean; and a diversification in quality on the part of the weavers, who decided to produce silks aimed at men and women of modest means. The most radical change occurs sometime between 1710 and 1730; the weavers invent an entirely new aesthetic, inspired by pale-ground Indian silks, which were themselves increasingly popular in Constantinople and other Ottoman cities. The paper also touches on the narratives that dominate the study of Ottoman—and wider Islamic—art and how they often impede the study of mass-produced luxury goods; it then suggests a new way forward that considers the markets for and consumption of the objects.

Amanda Phillips received her doctorate from the Department of Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford in 2011; she has since worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, as part of a programme created by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Her book, Everyday Luxury, about the objects from Ottoman Constantinople—from carpets to dishes made of magic clay, album paintings to chintzes, all from the Berlin collections—is forthcoming in early 2015. She is now a research fellow at the University of Birmingham and is also working with Birmingham Museums Trust to catalogue and interpret their newly discovered collection of Ottoman ceramics and textiles.

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